Everybody always asks Lynn Curtis, wife of University of Idaho broadcaster Bob Curtis, her husband’s age.
“And they never believe it when I tell them,” she says, laughing.
So how old is he?
“He’s not much older than the university, is he?” needles Dave Kellogg, UI sports information director from 1977-85.
“He’s a prehistoric icon in the mecca of media,” jabs former Idaho coach John L. Smith. “I’ll tell you how old he is.
“When I was a kid in Idaho Falls, I used to bend a coat hanger and tape it up above my door and I’d listen to Bob Curtis doing Idaho basketball games. I’d pivot and shoot the way he was describing the games.
“I was a baby.”
Curtis retirement stories began appearing in the mid-1980s. They returned a few years ago.
But this Saturday, when Idaho celebrates homecoming against UC Davis at 3 p.m. in the Kibbie Dome, Curtis will be broadcasting his 452nd consecutive Vandal football game.
Since Curtis became UI’s full-time announcer in 1957, 10 head football coaches and thousands of players have come and gone.
Curtis, 72 going on 27, remains. Retirement? What for?
“As long as I enjoy it,” he says with a wink, “and as long as people think I still do a good job, I’ll probably go a couple more years.”
Only once did he consider leaving for the so-called big time. The Oakland Raiders wanted a third man for their three-man broadcasts.
“But I didn’t want to sacrifice the farm,” said Curtis, referring to his family’s lucrative cattle business.
He downsized his portion of the business near Colfax, Wash., several years ago. He keeps enough feeders to “make a few bucks. I still love to do it, but I don’t want to feed ‘em and take care of ‘em like I used to.”
He spends a couple days during the week on preparation. On game days, he has a game face.
“He’s pretty intense,” Lynn says. “He’s a perfectionist.”
The list of most recognizable names in Idaho isn’t long before Curtis’ name appears. Idaho games are broadcast throughout the state, so on Saturdays his distinct voice is welcomed into the homes of the potato farmer in Pocatello, the teacher in Teton and the rancher in Rupert.
“It might be between him and me,” suggests veteran Boise State broadcaster Paul J. Schneider. “They did a survey down here once and my name recognition was like 93 percent and the governor’s was 87.”
Mention Curtis’ name to his friends and the stories pour out. Some are even printable. His buddies tease him mercilessly, but always with due respect.
“Bob’s a great storyteller who enjoys a good laugh,” says longtime friend Bill Moos, athletic director at Oregon. “He worked all those years farming, broadcasting was more like his hobby, until you realized how much of his heart he put into it.”
Curtis’ pull in Idaho’s athletic department extends beyond the airwaves.
“He has a lot of influence there,” says Seattle Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, UI coach from 1982-85 and another close friend of Curtis’. “When I was in Moscow, everybody would listen to him.”
Those who worked closest with him, sports information directors and announcer sidekicks, say Curtis can be demanding, but always with the intent of a better broadcast.
“He asked if I’d do color one game. We’re pretty well into the game and I’m not saying much - with Bob you don’t have to say much - and there’s an option play and an Idaho kid gets hurt.
“Bob continues on with the play and then he comes back to me, ‘Can you tell where he got hurt?’ I said, ‘About the 25-yard line.’ He looks at me and says, “I meant what part of the body?”
Curtis has become chums with numerous UI football and basketball coaches. Smith remembers calling Curtis soon after he accepted the coaching job in 1989.
“He’d retired for the 97th time, and I told him, ‘There’s no way you can get out because I’m coming in,’ ” Smith says. “He was so great to me, a great friend, not only great in his profession, but a confidant.”
Curtis-isms are legendary, an unavoidable offshoot of doing so many games.
“I was doing a basketball game (in the 1940s) and Washington State had an all-American named Gale Bishop, who was great offensively and didn’t like to play defense,” says Curtis, who, after a 10-year absence, returned to calling UI basketball games last year.
“At halftime, I said, ‘Gale is doing a superb job offensively, but he’s only making a half-as… uhm, hearted effort on defense.’ “
Curtis once told listeners, “Devon Pearce crosses the 50 and is tackled at the 52.” Curtis occasionally describes play-action as a “a handoff to nobody.”
But those are blips in a career in which he’s earned countless awards and extraordinary pleasure. He endured decades of downtrodden Idaho teams in the 1960s and 1970s before the Vandals consistently moved into the win column the past 15 years.
“That was when I perfected any semblance of being a good broadcaster,” he says. “When the team is winning, people listen regardless.”
Tom Morris, color analyst from 1985-95, recalls cringing at the sight of Curtis battling head colds by sucking on a lemon between plays.
“We had fun, I guess that was the thing,” Morris says. “And I think the listeners related to that.”
Especially after big wins.
“Probably the biggest thrill for him and I was when we beat Boise in 1982,” remembers Erickson. “Nobody gave us a chance. Having been in the rivalry so long, he felt so much elation and excitement.”
The best play Curtis ever broadcast? “Gus Johnson coming down old Memorial Gym, I swear he was at mid court, dribbled once and dunked it,” he says, eyes sparkling as it replays in his mind.
Best game? A tie, he says. Idaho rallying from a 28-0 hole to beat Colorado State 37-34 in 1992 and Idaho defeating WSU, his alma mater, 10-0 in 1954.
“It’s a hobby for me, but I don’t like to use that word. I treat it like a vocation. I’ve always been proud of the University of Idaho, the way it’s treated me and the way its handled things. I’ve tried to represent the university the same way,” he says.
“Sports casting has kept my mind active and it got me away from the pressures of my own business. It keeps you young.”
We can tell.
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